COVID-19 crisis: Google testing new feature in Maps, which could help users know about beds, medical oxygen


Google has announced some updates to its efforts to help with the COVID-19 related relief work in India, including testing a new pilot feature on Maps that could let users know about beds and medical oxygen in select locations such as hospitals and medical oxygen suppliers.

The feature will be tested in select places and rely on crowd-sourcing responses from users. Based on the feedback that the company gets, Google will roll it out to more places.

If someone is at a particular hospital or at an oxygen supplier’s place, Google Maps could show them a prompt asking them some questions about the availability of beds or medical oxygen, depending on the place. These user responses could then prove to be useful for other potential users who might visit the place later. However, verifying the accuracy will prove to be a challenge, given this information might need constant updates since the COVID-19 second wave has caused a severe shortage of beds at most hospitals.

Google admits that given the “feature will be based on user generated content and not provided by authorised sources, it may be required to verify the accuracy and freshness of the information before utilising it.”

Google is also sharing locations of 23,000 COVID-19 vaccination centres across the country on Maps and Search. The feature works in English and eight other Indian languages. It is also showing 2,500 testing centres for COVID-19 on both platforms.

The blog post from the company adds that Google is working with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to make more vaccination centre information available to users throughout India. It also highlights that when users search about vaccines on Google, they will “information panels that display the latest updates on vaccine safety, efficacy and side-effects.” The panel also includes “registration information that directs users to the Co-WIN website.”

Google also says that it is surfacing “authoritative information in a set of playlists, about vaccines,” on YouTube in order to prevent the spread of misinformation around the issue. It is also helping extend the reach of health information campaigns, which includes the ‘Get the Facts’ around vaccines campaign, to encourage people to focus on authoritative information and content for vaccines.

In April, Google had announced Rs 135 crore relief funding to help fight COVID-19 in India. Google CEO Sundar Pichai had tweeted that the company would donate to GiveIndia, UNICEF for medical supplies, and other organisations supporting high-risk communities. In an interview with CNN, Pichai had said he was heart-broken about the situation in his home country. “The situation there is dire, and it’s been heartbreaking to see. I think the worst is yet to come,” the Chennai-born CEO had told CNN.

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